The UK population peaked at 65.6 million in 2016. It was reported that 18% of the population were aged 65 and over. With an ageing population, that’s rapidly growing businesses need to accommodate for those who are reaching an older age, and require mobility needs, along with those with disabilities. With that in mind, are shopping centres making themselves accessible for these people?

Despite the disabled population in Britain that have a spending power of £80bn, many retail stores are inaccessible to many. There are so many companies that are potentially losing out on their share of the weekly £420m in sales by not having wheelchair ramps and access to all floors.

Stairlift manufacturer, Acorn Stairlifts, investigates further and look at the ten biggest shopping centres in the UK and how accessible they are for those with mobility restrictions

The shopping centres include:

  • Bluewater Shopping Centre, Kent
  • Lakeside Shopping Centre, Essex
  • Liverpool One, Liverpool
  • Manchester Arndale, Manchester
  • Meadowhall, Sheffield
  • Merry Hill Centre, West Midlands
  • Metrocentre, Gateshead
  • Trafford Centre, Greater Manchester
  • Westfield London, Greater London
  • Westfield Stratford City,

The Disabled Parking Accreditation (DPA) aims to improve parking for disabled people and reduce incidences where non-blue badge holders misuse the designated parking spaces. The requirements to qualify include parking bays which meet specific dimensions, monitoring of accessible bays and easy entry to the car park.

Out of the 10 biggest shopping centres in the UK, 40% have received the accreditation amongst which are Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent and Metrocentre in Gateshead. On the other hand, Merry Hill Centre in the West Midlands is not.

In fact, disabled parking at many of the big shopping centres are limited. At Manchester Arndale, only 2% of spaces were dedicated to blue badge holders. Likewise, at Meadowhall Sheffield, this number stood at just under 3%. Westfield London shopping centre has 5% of their parking bays dedicated to disabled spaces, which should in theory increase the likelihood of disabled shoppers visiting the premises.

Mobility around the shopping centres
People that struggle with long term disabilities often bring with them their own wheelchair or walking aids. However, it’s important for shopping centres to offer the facilities to hire this equipment for elderly people who may need some relief from walking around or those who struggle walking long distances.

All of the big shopping centres offer facilities where it’s possible to hire an electric or manual wheelchair or power scooters. The process in the shopping centres do differ however. In the Trafford Centre, users must pay £2 per hour for the use of a wheelchair yet in Bluewater Shopping Centre, this cost is £3 for four hours. Lakeside Shopping Centre offers the use of the service entirely for free, as does the Metrocentre.

One big consideration for the elderly and disabled people, is the availability of toilets in the shopping centres. Many people will avoid going certain places with the concern that they won’t have access to the facilities that they need.

‘Changing places’ are facilities that have a large toilet in them, an adult size changing bench and hoist. This avoids people having to lie on toilet floors to be changed and provides enough room for carers to assist someone with going to the toilet comfortably. Unfortunately, there are only just over 1,000 changing places in the UK — yet millions of regular toilets for non-disabled people. There has been some improvement, as there were only 140 of these facilities across the UK in 2007. Only 50 out of around 500 shopping centres have them in the UK, but what about the ten biggest shopping centres?

We’ve discovered through research that 90% of the ten biggest shopping centres offer changing places, in fact Westfield Stratford City in London have two. Meadowhall in Sheffield also has accessible shower facilities — a great facility for disabled and elderly people who may be more prone to toilet accidents.

Disabled toilets are also important to have available within shopping centres. This means that older people or those with disabilities who visit the centres will be in close proximity to a disabled toilet should they need it.

In the Metrocentre, there is one disabled toilet point per 48,600 m2 of retail space — the same distribution of regular toilets. In the Trafford Centre however, there is one disabled toilet point per 61,000 m2 of retail space and more regular toilets than disabled. Merry Hill have one per 21,666 m2 — providing disabled people with easier access to the facilities that they need.

Our article suggests that there is still work to be done when it comes to giving disabled and elderly people the equal opportunity of non-disabled people when shopping. There are many things that all shopping centres should certainly consider implementing to improve the experience of disabled and elderly shoppers — including additional disabled toilets, changing places, ramps and more.